This is an excerpt from my book The Image of a Father
The Arrows of Fortune
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate (Ps. 127:4, 5).
What is an empty nest? Is it a symbol of sadness? Is it a monument to a legacy? Someday our children will leave the shelter of our homes, and their departure will create dramatic change. As the psalmist tells us, children are like arrows, and a warrior is blessed if his quiver is full of them. But what becomes of the warrior when the last arrow is taken from his quiver? What are his duties when his little warriors have gone forth and he is too old to march in their wars? In the book of our lives, careful attention to our roles in this new phase will help us write a satisfying final chapter on fatherhood.
God equips us for service, and he sends us out to expand his kingdom, making spiritual war with anyone who would stand in his way. We are God’s arrows, fitted for use by the ultimate warrior. Once he sends us out, he remains steady, true, and available, ready to guide our paths as we soar toward our targets.
When our children leave home to pursue their visions, they will still need their father. Our role changes from one who asserts himself as a child’s authority to one who moves into the background as a counselor. If a father has instilled godly wisdom in his children over the years, he sits in quiet confidence that they will find the right way, and he stays ready to assist them if they seek to interpret their circumstances in light of what they have learned.
We will look at our preparation to send our children out into the world by analyzing the warrior and arrow illustration. Fathers, like God, are warriors, and our children are arrows. Every arrow has a special use, but each one is prepared according to similar principles. A father is well advised to learn the principles of good arrow making so he can be sure his arrows are ready to fire.
Carrying any illustration too far causes it to break down. Obviously we can’t guide an arrow once it leaves the string, and it can’t come back for refiring unless we go out and retrieve it. We will, however, belabor the illustration for our purposes, hoping we don’t stretch the bowstring beyond its breaking point.
A Straight Arrow
An arrow that can’t fly straight is worthless. It takes off in the direction of the point, but with numerous bends and angles in the arrow shaft, who knows where it will finally end up? Trying to aim it is a waste of time, and it may cause unintended damage.
A child who is crafted according to the word of God walks in a straight path. He knows God’s commandments and his responsibility to obey them. He carries them in his heart as a beloved letter from his Lord. He has learned how to recognize God’s voice, enabling him to walk the path that his shepherd has set before him, as the Proverb says, “Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established” (Prov. 4:25, 26).
Preparing a child to leave home is not just a formal good-bye, the giving of a blessing and a few dollars for the road; it is a painstaking craft, a years-long labor of love. You cannot wait until the day of departure to straighten out a son or daughter who has a heart bent away from God. Making the arrow straight requires patient carving, painful whittling away of defects, and prudent examination. If the word of God is not abiding in a child’s heart, there will be no steering influence when he walks out your door. He will be left to the winds of the world.
Is there any greater anguish than to see a child going astray, the one in whom you have invested so many years? Even in such tragedy, there is still hope. There is still a powerful, loving God in heaven. And you, father, can still make a difference. We will cover that hope and what you can do to help in the last section of this chapter.
An Accurate Arrow
A straight arrow flies in an unfailing path; it will not bend to the left or to the right of its trajectory. But what good is an arrow if it plunges into the wrong target? Straight is good, but straight into a brick wall is pointless.
In chapter eight we discussed helping a child gain a vision, a purpose for life. By gaining this vision, a child will leave home with an aim, confidently stepping out into the world with a clear view of where he is going. Without vision, he will fly in a straight path toward oblivion.
Many children leave home without a target in mind. They may not have their career paths set or know what courses they want to take in college. They may seem to be floating in a void. While it is ideal for departing children to have well-focused goals, they can still have great success even if they have only a vague idea of where they’re going. Whether missions or medicine, homemaking or haberdashery, a child’s calling in life can become more firmly established after he leaves home. A general aim, however, is still crucial, and you can help that aim come into view.
Here is the universal target. No matter what floors they finally walk, the tiles of hospitals, the carpets of home, or the stones and sands of foreign missions, if your children are tracing the footsteps of Christ’s love, they will be walking in a path that God will approve. An arrow is well aimed if it is pointed at the heart. If a child learns that nothing is more important than reaching out to people with the compassionate hand of Jesus, he or she will find a godly mark.
Corner offices are nothing more than idols of position, military ranks are merely saluted ribbons and buttons, and government seats of power are the money-brokered thrones of the ambitious. Yet, even though Nicodemus wore the robe of the Pharisee, he sought the heart of Christ, yearning for the feet of his savior more than for the seat of power. If you teach your children to love, to bleed for people as Christ bled for the nations, no matter where their feet tread, they will find God’s path.
Our aim is to fulfill the calling of the gospel’s work within us. God’s love changes hearts; our children are called to take that transforming message to others, no matter which path will lead them to that end. If we aim for the heart, our arrows will not need to be retrieved and fired again.
More to come next Sunday.
Categories: Thoughts from the Heart